the weather in japan

Yesterday evening at the end of the day, wandered downstairs through the rain and cloud-darkened rooms. Sat in the window seat in the drawing room without the electric fire. Didn’t realize there was a view of the river, which was and still is, swollen and brown and traveling swiftly by.

At the back of the formal dining room, mirrored doors slide open onto the special library that contains books by writers who have been awarded the Hawthornden prize and the Drue Heinz prize. It’s a cold room. The ceiling is open to the rafters and the original wall is visible behind the fireplace. A sign is taped to the window sill:

Please keep this top sash window slightly ajar.
you wil notice a build up of
Hothouse flies trying to escape.

I think of it as the window that faces the front of the ship of the castle. The window behind the foredeck. The prow.

I pulled a few of the prizewinners down from the shelves. Read a few first pages. A few random pages. Continued turning the pages of some. Surprised and not surprised how many of the names I knew. Edith Pearlman. Jennifer Cornell. Stewart O’Nan. Geoff Becker’s prose struck me as the tightest, the easiest to enter, the most fluid, and this reminded me of Frank Conroy, of the kind of story he would have admired. I think it was called Dangerous Men. Anne Sanow’s Triple Time wasn’t there, nor was the 2012 prizewinner’s collection that rumor has it was considered by Mrs. Heinz too risqué.

My eye moved higher where the slender volumes of poetry are shelved. Find I’ve been more drawn to poetry since I’ve been here. Maybe prose is beginning to remind me of talking, is beginning to sound like the dripping faucet that talking sometimes is. I remember noticing the title The Weather in Japan, but walked away from it to the other side of the room where books by William Drummond and Ben Jonson and books about the country, the landscape, the lore and the language of Scotland are kept. But something took me back to the Belfast poet Michael Longley’s The Weather in Japan. Reading it has changed something in me in the last 18 hours.

The dedication page goes like this:

For Ronald Ewart

In my ideal village, the houses lie scattered
Over miles and are called a townland, while in yours
Neighbors live above and below, and a nightcap
Means climbing up steps in the direction of the stars.

The title piece like this:

The Weather in Japan
Makes bead curtains of rain,
Of the mist a paper screen.

At the bottom of the page called Notes and Acknowledgements, he defines a few words and tells where they appear in some of the poems, but when I looked to those pages they weren’t there:

I use several Scots (or Ulster Scots) words, three of which may require a gloss: hourly-gush means a noisy rush of water; peerie-heedit means ‘with a spinning top for a head,’ confused, disoriented; dayligone means twilight, dusk.

I read of mud and waiting and loyalty in the terrible war poem “The Horses.”

I read “Found Poem,” a wonderful lesson on the naming of colors and a tribute to Harriet Tubman, who “thought her quilt patterns as beautiful / as the wild flowers that grew in the wood / and along the edges of the roads.”

I especially remember “Birds & Flowers,” dedicated to Fuyuji Tanigawa, which contains pieces of a correspondence between friends:

‘I have been a man of home these years,’ you write, ‘often
Surprised to know so much passion hidden in myself.’

You who translated for me ‘ichigo-ichie’ as ‘one life,
One meeting’ as though each encounter were once-in-a-

And finally, as if he knew this reader would find him in this particular place at this particular time, from “The Well at Tully”:

This view of the river from a window-seat, attracts you
Like a sea trout,

The Weather in Japan, Michael Longley. London: Jonathan Cape, 2000.

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One Response to the weather in japan

  1. Shannon Hopkins says:

    I loved the postcard. It arrived yesterday. Great picture. I see you there in your ship. The dedication here reminds me of Colombia, of my aunt’s house in Buga. “Go upstairs to Cousin Maria’s and borrow some milk,” she would say. And by that she meant climb the narrow outdoor set of stairs to the house above us on the hill, where my relatives lived (all relatives are cousins in Colombia I think), and certainly at night it was like walking “in the direction of the stars.”

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